Want to Improve Voter Turnout? Start by Making It Easier to Vote

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Whether you consider voting a right or a privilege, it bears defending in the name of participatory democracy. (Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

As we get closer and closer to Election Day 2018—which is Tuesday, November 6 in case you haven’t already circled it on your calendar or have voted or have made plans to vote—the factors that mediate voter turnout become all the more relevant.

As is so often talked about and lamented, a significant portion of Americans who can vote choose not to do so. It happened in 2016, as frustrated Hillary supporters and others not enamored with the current president are keen to remind everyone who will listen. It will likely happen to a greater extent this year. This is all before we get to the polls, where there’s no assurance we will even recognize most of the candidates listed.

Those who elect not to cast a ballot have their explanations. There’s work, school, and other responsibilities. They may believe they don’t know enough about the voting process or the candidates, or simply don’t feel inspired by their choices. Their district may not be a “competitive” one. Especially within immigrant populations, families may not have a robust tradition of voting in this country, with children of immigrants often not possessing a strong role model in this regard.

These explanations may not suffice as excuses, mind you. Barack Obama recently appeared in an online video designed to eat away at the most common justifications people give for not coming out. Not caring about politics. Not relating to the candidates. Not being well informed. Not knowing where to vote or not having time on Election Day. Feeling as if one’s vote “doesn’t matter” or that the midterms are “boring.” Obama addresses these ideas in a reasoned and amusing way. I personally could’ve done without the knowledge he doesn’t care about Pokémon (you’ll never be president of the Kanto region with that attitude, Barack!), but I appreciate the effort on his part.

Motivating potential voters is critical to achieving high turnout, of course. But working to overcome obstacles designed specifically to depress participation is important in its own right. As research suggests, voter turnout correlates in a statistically significant way with how easy the voting process is.

Christopher Ingraham, writing for The Washington Post, delves into a recent report by political scientists at Northern Illinois University and Wuhan University in China that measures voter turnout in each state against the relative “time and effort” needed to vote as a function of that state’s election laws. Researchers analyzed 33 types of laws that applied to areas like the ability of citizens under 18 to register in advance of reaching voting age, early and absentee voting permissibility, polling hours, registration deadlines and restrictions, and voter ID requirements.

The findings? Generally speaking, the easier it is to vote in a state—what the researching scientists term having a lower “cost of voting”—the higher turnout tends to be. For the sake of a comparison, the five states with the easiest voting profile (Oregon, Colorado, California, North Dakota, Iowa) averaged almost nine percentage points better turnout in 2016 than the corresponding pentad at the opposite end of the spectrum (Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Texas). The researchers also made sure to account for and control for potential founding factors including competitiveness of the race at the top of the ticket, education level, and income level. The trend in voting patterns held.

As with any correlation, there are outliers which prove counterexamples. Hawaii, despite being in the top 20 of easiest states to vote, owned the worst turnout rate from 2016 by far. Virginia, despite having some of the most restrictive election laws in the country, had turnout roughly equivalent to Oregon’s. Overall, though, the evidence is pretty compelling that expanding voting access leads to increased turnout. On the other hand, evidence is strong that intentional policies which make voting more difficult—Ingraham points to such efforts in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas—are related to a lower turnout percentage.

As Ingraham relates, and as the Northern Illinois/Wuhan scientists submit, the easiest way to make voting, well, easier, is to allow same-day voter registration and, to boot, to permit people to get registered or re-registered at their polling place. This is not to say that other factors pertaining to the cost of voting can’t or shouldn’t be addressed. After all, what good is same-day registration when officials close polling locations? The idea remains, meanwhile, that simple changes which improve the voting process can have a material effect on producing better voting outcomes. With eyes already on Election Day 2020, voter ease of access is more than a passing concern.


As the scatterplot which accompanies Christopher Ingraham’s article speaks to, “red” states are more likely to be characterized by a high cost of voting. 4 of 5 and 9 of 10 of the hardest states to vote in by nature of their requirements went for Donald Trump in 2016. Returning to the notion of obstacles designed specifically to make voting more difficult, and as the very title of Ingraham’s piece indicates, this is no accident. To be fair, both parties have been guilty of trying to stack the deck, so to speak, especially when it comes to gerrymandering to try to get a political advantage.

Just because both parties have had their moments, however, doesn’t mean that all attempts to swing elections are created equal. Indeed, as attempts to suppress votes are concerned, Republicans are usually the worse offenders. All the more unnerving is the apparent phenomenon of the GOP aiming to disenfranchise voters and not being all that secretive about it.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has made news recently for his decision to suspend more than 50,000 voter applications—a majority of them from blacks—justified as part of an “exact match” voter fraud deterrent. He’s also come under fire for purging yet more voters from the rolls for not voting, and has been sued for failing to safeguard voting records against hacking.

On top of this, newly-leaked audio from a private Kemp campaign event reveals Kemp expressing concern about his opponent, Stacey Abrams, pushing to get voters to the polls and exercise their right to vote. These remarks may be fairly innocuous, but Kemp’s role as Secretary of State as well as his political stances (Kemp’s statements on Russian election interference have resembled those of President Trump) cast doubts about whether a conflict of interest is at work here.

There are any number of instances to which one can point to deliberate efforts to bar people from participatory democracy. Back in Georgia, some 40 elderly black residents were ordered off a bus in Cobb County on their way to the polls to cast their ballots during the state’s early voting. Not only is this a thinly-veiled intimidation tactic, but it is indicative of a pattern of voter suppression that disproportionately targets people of color. For a party in the GOP that seems content to try to deny projected population trends and a growing sense of multiculturalism in the United States in favor of appealing to working-class whites and older Americans fearful of change, while the strategy is no less appalling, it makes a lot of sense.

Assuming Democrats, particularly progressive Democrats (I am not treating these terms as mutually exclusive, but regard this term as you will), are interested in expanding and protecting the right to vote, what do they need to do? Honestly, probably the best thing they can do is win elections, and ay, there’s the rub. Republican efforts to suppress votes specifically target members of their base, making it harder for them to win elections and stop GOP officials from doing things like purging voters based on flimsy arguments and closing polling places, or nominating and confirming judges who uphold discriminatory election laws crafted by the likes of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It’s a vicious circle, and one the apathy of American voters only helps perpetuate.

For activists, meanwhile, advocacy for the expansion of voting rights and informing and educating the public about options designed to make the voting process easier seems like a meritorious course of action, and one that is beneficial in terms of the bigger political picture, at that. Especially for the activist groups that prefer remaining issue-based and not candidate-focused, as well as for the organizations that have struggled with attracting more diverse membership, working to eliminate barriers to exercising the right to vote can be an important step in breaking down barriers to positive change elsewhere.

“I Feel Like My Voice Doesn’t Matter”: On Why Americans Don’t (or Can’t) Vote

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Maybe the problem with our democracy is not so much with voters and non-voters as it is with choosing the wrong candidates (read: not Bernie Sanders) and rigging the system in favor of moneyed interests. (Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

This is not what democracy looks like.

Despite America’s much-ballyhooed status as “land of the free and home of the brave,” when it comes to voting, a significant portion of the U.S. population remains unwilling or unable to cast their ballots in elections up and down tickets. A recent report for NPR by Asma Khalid, Don Gonyea, and Leila Fadel entitled “On the Sidelines of Democracy: Exploring Why So Many Americans Don’t Vote” plumbs the depths of this modern electoral reality.

First, a matter of statistics. According to the authors’ data, only about 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2016. If 2010 and 2014 are any indication, meanwhile, turnout for midterm elections is only expected to be about 40%. As the NPR piece insists, it can’t be known for sure how many elections might have experienced different outcomes had all or a even a larger majority come out to the polls.

However, as the report is also keen to stress, voting doesn’t just decide winners and losers. It influences what policies candidates enact upon getting into office. What’s more, it affects how these politicians interact with would-be supporters and which interests they appeal to. In other words, rather than depicting campaign platforms as static and resistant to change, Khalid et al. see them as malleable under the right outside pressure.

What’s particularly disturbing about the who, what, and why of voters vs. non-voters is that research shows these two groups have appreciably different views on matters of policy. The findings of Jan Leighley cited within the NPR piece suggest non-voters are more likely to support programs which expand the social safety net and policies which effect a redistribution of wealth.

This is before we even get to the matter of those who can’t vote, whether because of criminal records, registration issues, or other “irregularities.” The authors place this subset of the population in the hundreds of thousands, a significant number when considering some recent elections have been decided by mere hundreds of votes.

But non-voters who can vote and choose not to are at the crux of Khalid’s, Gonyea’s, and Fadel’s piece. Using data from L2, a non-partisan voter file vendor (you can read about the exact methodology in the linked article), NPR analyzed what separates voters from non-voters. Though the specific circumstances vary from place to place, the authors isolated four factors: age, income, education level, and habits.

In talking to young adults from Las Vegas, the common refrain was that they didn’t know enough about politics or even voting, for that matter, to cast ballots. This echoes the findings of Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE, an initiative at Tufts University which looks at youth civic and political participation.

Not only are young people potentially confused about what voting entails, but they are generally pessimistic about its ability to bring about positive change. As they tend to be more itinerant than other age groups, they also feel less connected to the issues affecting where they live. Or they’re “too busy.” Or they don’t feel inspired by many political candidates. Whatever the underlying reason(s), by not voting, young adults are making it that much more likely candidates will opt not to court them in future elections in favor of groups that come out more strongly.

In McDowell County, West Virginia, the issues of class and education loom largest. The median annual income in Welch, WV, the county seat, is only about $25,000 a year. Once again, there’s the perception that no matter who is in office, their county gets the proverbial short end of the stick and is all but ignored by politicians.

Going back to Jan Leighley’s research, class more than any other variable promotes a voting discrepancy; nearly 80% of high-income earners vote, as opposed to only about 50% of low-income earners. As having a college degree makes a person that much more able to secure employment and start a career, it is no wonder education level is a factor as well. Throw in the need to work multiple jobs and other potential responsibilities, and voting certainly stands to be less of a priority.

As for El Paso, Texas, the NPR study found low Latinx turnout. At least in El Paso County, there are specific reasons which may combine to explain why over 60% of registered voters don’t come out to the polls. Part of the reason may be that immigrant families may not be familiar with voting, and that children of immigrants born here may not have had their parents serve as models in this regard. This may help inform why Asian-American voter participation is also low. Additionally, Texas hasn’t been a politically competitive state for decades now. Plus, El Paso doesn’t exactly have a good track record with respect to corrupt public officials, so there’s that, too.

Still, as Khalid et al. show, it’s not just in Texas that Latinx voters are disproportionately staying home, even when candidates for public office like Donald Trump are painting Mexicans with broad strokes as criminals and rapists. In addition to the idea that Latinxs feel a disconnect with the political process—this is emerging as a common theme across demographics—the reality is that voter outreach to non-voters is, as the article puts it, “anemic.” Rather than try to engage non-voters, candidates will plumb voter files for people who do vote frequently and try to reach out to them. This does not bode well for a robust increase in voter turnout.

Perhaps on some level, one sympathizes with political campaigns on this last note. As the NPR article states outright, “It’s more expensive and time consuming to chase down infrequent voters.” Inconvenient as this truth might be, though, it doesn’t provide a solution going forward. This is not meant as a criticism of the report, which appears to be well-researched and incisive. Nonetheless, it’s a limitation, as complex as any potential solution to low voter turnout may be.

Thus, for all the report’s valuable insights, it’s, well, kind of a downer. Maybe this is unavoidable in the face of stark electoral realities, but for those of us seeking an inspired and inspiring path to action, we’ll have to look elsewhere for answers.


My time as a frequent voter and political observer has been admittedly brief. However, rather than take the tack of many to harangue the non-voting among us into submission—Lord knows I’ve received my fair share of vote shaming despite actually going out to the polls—I tend to focus on how the voting process can be reformed and how the major parties should do better given their prominence.

At the risk of oversimplification, a big way to generate more enthusiasm for voting is to produce better candidates who run on genuinely attractive platforms. In this sense, the person(s) behind the campaign are less important than the ideas and ideals they embrace. Why else would Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian secular Jew from Vermont with a Brooklyn accent, be so popular among people who follow politics, especially young people?

This is, of course, not to say that Bernie’s 2016 campaign and stances were perfect. For instance, his positions on foreign policy issues at times lacked nuance, and his defense of gun ownership and gun manufacturers when gun violence is such a hot topic (mostly because Americans keep getting shot and killed at rates far surpassing those of other developed countries) was characterized as out of touch. I, for one, support his views on not going after manufacturers unless they behave unethically or illegally, but I also recognize his defense of attitudes from a state that prizes hunting as a tradition as a liability for a presidential run.

As some might even aver, Sanders is really a one-issue candidate. That one issue, however, is a central one: widening income/wealth inequality and the dissolution of power and viability of the working class. It’s a problem that some of us can afford to ignore, but the vast majority can’t.

Accordingly, when Bernie talks about these subjects as well as getting money out of politics (the “rigged economy” train of thought), it resonates. Take the example of health care. When Americans have to choose between paying medical bills and buying basic necessities, that’s not merely due to poor choices—it speaks to a broken system. It’s no wonder he and candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who espouse similar views (including advocacy for Medicare for All) have captured the imagination of so many people.

It should be stressed that great candidates don’t just grow on trees. Part of producing better candidates is being able to choose from a deeper pool. I’m not just talking about “diversity” in the narrow sense of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other identifying characteristics, though these are important. I mean more individuals with a progressive mindset should be running for office. This is easier said than done when people have families and jobs and lives. You know, better people than me.

Nevertheless, along these lines, party leaders should make the effort to reduce or lower the barriers for civic and political engagement. Part of this is demystifying the voting process and the ability of running for office. While I don’t feel we should necessarily encourage people to make ill-informed decisions, there’s also the matter of other voters caring about one issue or choosing based on ugly prejudices (see also “President Donald J. Trump”). In all, it would appear to be a wash. The same goes with candidates for public office. For every noble statesman or stateswoman to serve in an official capacity, there’s someone who is ill-qualified for their role and/or good for nothing else but running for office (once again, see also “President Donald J. Trump”). As the saying goes, this is politics, not rocket science.

When politicians are not compromised by their obedience to moneyed interests, and when the threshold for political participation is more reasonable (i.e. fewer fundraisers charging several hundred dollars a head), only then, I believe, will we set the stage for a meaningful dialog between elected representatives and their constituents. This includes town hall meetings with residents—you know, ones to which officials actually show and field questions rather than ditching them and complaining about unfair treatment. You ran presumably because you wanted to serve your state/town/what-have-you. Do your job.

I speak about these things in the abstract, realizing full well it is difficult to bring about positive change. To reiterate, easier said than done. It takes time, effort, and cooperation forged through a shared vision. Then again, no one said it would be easy, and furthermore, the desired outcomes are worth the struggle. We as a nation have to do better when it comes to voter turnout. The alternative is to stay home and ensure that our needs continue to go unanswered and our voices remain unheard.

 

I Didn’t Vote or Campaign for Hillary. Please Don’t Use the Separation of Immigrant Families to Try to Shame Me for It.

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If you want to talk about my white privilege, fine. If you want to talk about what I could have done for vulnerable immigrant groups and can do going forward, I’m genuinely sorry, and with you. If you want to shame me for my vote for a third-party candidate, however, I reject your ignorance of electoral realities and your political bigotry. (Image Source: CBS News via YouTube)

I don’t often share personal experiences in my political writing, mostly because I feel like I’d be sharing stories that no one wants to hear. That still may very well be the case, but seeing as this situation was made relevant to the ongoing crisis facing the separation of immigrant families, I figured I would highlight my experience as a way of talking about the related issues.

A now-former friend on Facebook, who is a leader/organizer on behalf of a nonprofit organization, recently took to social media to ask whether any Jill Stein voters would like to apologize for their choice in the wake of said crisis. I, as someone who voted for Stein, took umbrage to this comment, if for no other reason than it seemed particularly haughty of him to begin the conversation on these terms. Granted, I could’ve (and probably should’ve) not engaged at all, but I did, and so here we are.

First, a note about my vote for Jill Stein: I am neither an ardent supporter of Stein nor am I am a Green Party fanatic. I also don’t fully know what the heck the point was of the recount she spearheaded or ultimately what exactly became of the money raised to fund recount efforts. For some of you, I suppose that just makes it worse: that I would just up and support a third-party nominee of whom I am not a follower despite being a registered Democrat. In this sense, my vote can be seen as somewhat of a betrayal.

I also should note that I supported Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, and voted for him in my state’s Democratic primary. By this point, I had no illusions that Bernie would capture the nomination; my home state, New Jersey, was one of the last handful of primaries to be held in the 2016 election season, and several media outlets were already calling the nomination in Hillary’s favor before the polls could open. Accordingly, you might see my refusal to cast my ballot for Clinton, too, as a manifestation of the “Bernie or Bust” mantra. Although technically I did vote, just not for a representative of either major political party. Nor did I write in Sanders’s name as a protest vote. Or Harambe’s, even though I’m told he would’ve loved to see the election results.

When it came down to it, though, I didn’t feel like Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party did enough to try to win my vote—simply put. To me, Clinton’s campaign was emblematic of a larger strategic flaw that characterizes the Dems: too much capitulation to centrists, too dismissive of concerns about reliance on corporate and wealthy donors, too little regard for the concerns of working-class Americans and grass-roots organizers until it comes time to donate or vote. To me, Hillary’s pitch seemed largely tone-deaf if not disingenuous, plagued by secrecy about E-mail servers and Goldman Sachs speeches as well as ill-advised comments about “deplorables,” among other things. And for those of you already raising a finger to wag about the deleterious aspects of the Republican Party and its nominee, I never even remotely considered Donald Trump or another GOP candidate for my vote. At present, that’s a line I won’t cross, in jest or otherwise.

Thus, despite her evident misunderstanding of quantitative easing, I voted for Jill Stein—not because I thought she could win or because I feared Trump could—but because I felt the values she and her campaign expressed most closely matched mine. That’s it. I imagine many Trump voters felt the same way re values—that is, they supported his economic or social platform more than him or his antics, though if that’s the case, I don’t know how much that says about their values. I’m just trying to get the idea across that people’s “support” for particular candidates can be more nuanced than today’s political discourse might otherwise suggest.

My voting mindset, therefore, was not “strategic” in the sense that I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton specifically to block Donald Trump. In light of my state’s final tally, it would seem my vote was unnecessary in this regard, though I could not know that for sure at the time I cast my ballot. Clinton came out ahead in New Jersey by more than 13 percentage points and close to 500,000 more votes, and thanks to the Electoral College and our winner-takes-all style of deciding these matters, all 14 of the Garden State’s electoral votes went to her. Stein did not even manage a third-place showing, being bested by the likes of Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s candidate.

This was the crux of my initial rebuttal about the need to apologize for my vote. While on a state-by-state basis, the notion of Johnson and Stein being “spoilers” may or may not have more validity (more on that in a bit), in my state, it did not. Regardless, to point fingers at lowly third parties deflects a lot of blame, and to borrow a term from Ralph Nader, who faced similar finger-pointing following the 2000 election, is to succumb to a high degree of “political bigotry.” In other words, it’s scapegoating perpetrated by members of major parties to distract from their need for substantive reform.

In addition to the culpable parties oft-cited by Clinton’s supporters and defenders—namely Russia, James Comey, and sexism (this last one may or may not be so true depending on the context or individual voter’s mindset, but that’s a whole different kit and caboodle)—there’s ample room to consider what role other groups played or, in theory, could have played. After all, what about the people who could vote and didn’t? What about the people who couldn’t vote but perhaps should be afforded the privilege, such as convicted felons? And what about the folks who actually voted for Donald Trump? Are they to be absolved of responsibility because they didn’t know better? If so, where is this written?

Additionally, what does it say that someone like Clinton, vastly more qualified than her opponent and, from the look and sound of things, quantifiably more capable, lost to someone in Trump to whom she had no business losing? For all the justifications for Hillary Clinton failing to capture an electoral majority—let’s not forget the fact she won the popular vote, an issue in it of itself when considering it’s not the deciding factor in presidential victories—we shouldn’t overlook some questionable decisions made by the Clinton campaign, including, perhaps most notably, how she and her campaign paid relatively low attention to important battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin. Of course, even in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania where Clinton campaigned heavily, she still lost, so maybe any establishment Democrat the party trotted out might’ve met with the same resistance fed by blue-collar whites flocking to Trump. Still, one can’t shake the sense Hillary approached the final throes of the campaign with a certain sense of arrogance.

To my ex-FB-friend, however, my reasoning was insufficient, and at this point, one of his colleagues, who happens to be a person of color, interceded to agree with his sentiments. As far as they were concerned, my support for Jill Stein may have influenced people in states more susceptible to a Trump win to vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton. I guess, for the sake of an analogy, my thoughts could’ve “infected” those of otherwise discerning voters to make them vote the “wrong” way. My assignment of blame to Hillary despite the forces working against her was panned as well, as was my diminishment of Stein as a spoiler. All in all, they contended, my position was one that exhibited my white privilege, and made me sound—quote unquote—morally reprehensible.

As far as I am concerned, if I’m morally reprehensible—fine. You can call me a serpent demon, for all I care. The legitimacy of the arguments within are what interests me. On the subject of my potential game-changing pro-Stein influence, though it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely. In my immediate circle, I told few people unless specifically asked who I planned to vote for. I also wrote a post back in 2016 about why I planned to vote for Jill Stein and posted to Facebook, but—let’s be clear—hardly anyone reads my writing. My own mother doesn’t even read it most of the time. From her standpoint, my entries are of the TL;DR ilk, and what’s more, they tend to be devoid of pictures of cute animals or how-to makeup videos. Fair enough, Mom.

On the subject of Jill Stein as spoiler, while it’s true that Stein’s numbers may have been larger than Trump’s margin of victory in key states, to say that all those votes would have gone to Hillary instead makes an assumption which may be accurate, or it may not. Again, however, it doesn’t change the contention that the race shouldn’t have been this close in the first place. Weeks after the 2016 election, as vote counts were yet being finalized in too-close-to-call contests, Jim Newell wrote as much in a piece for Slate. He argued:

The lesson of the Comey letter should not be that everything was just going fine until this singular event happened. Obviously Democratic candidates can pick up some tips for the future, such as a) always be sure to follow email protocol and b) keep your electronic devices as far as possible from Anthony Weiner. But they can never rule out some other Comey-equivalent October surprise. The question to ask is: Why was the Clinton campaign so susceptible to a slight shock in the first place? A campaign is resting on a very weak foundation if one vague letter from the FBI causes it to lose a huckster who sells crappy steaks at the Sharper Image.

The “Jill Stein or James Comey cost Hillary the election” narrative is akin to the narrative that Bernie Sanders did irreparable harm to the Democratic Party. You’re telling me that one man not even officially affiliated with the Democrats as a U.S. senator permanently damaged the entire party apparatus? To me, charging Sanders with potentially bringing ruin to the Dems says more about party’s infrastructural integrity (or lack thereof) than it does the intensity of his so-called “attacks” on Hillary Clinton as her primary challenger.

On the subject of my white privilege, meanwhile, well, they’re right. Let me say I don’t dispute this. I enjoy a certain amount of privilege on a daily basis and have almost certainly benefited from it over the course of my educational career and my professional life. Going back to the state-by-state basis of variation in election results, though, the biggest issue would appear to be my geographic privilege. If I lived in a state projected to be much closer based on polling data, might I have chosen differently?

Perhaps. It’s a decision I’m weighing on a smaller scale as we speak with Sen. Bob Menendez seeking re-election in New Jersey after a poor showing in the Democratic Party primary. Sure, Menendez is still the likely winner come November, but with doubts raised about the ethics of his behavior still fresh in voters’ minds, can I take his win for granted? On the other hand, if I do vote for him, what does this say about my values as a voter? Is choosing the “lesser of two evils” sufficient, considering we’ve been doing it for some time now and the state of democracy in this country doesn’t seem to be all that much better for it? These are the kinds of questions I don’t take likely.

Another issue invoked at around the same point in this discussion was whether I had done as much as I could to prevent Trump from winning. For what it’s worth, I wrote a piece separate from my pro-Jill Stein confessional right before the election about why you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, vote for Trump, but as I already acknowledged, my readership is very limited. At any rate, and as my online detractors insisted, I didn’t vote for Hillary, and what’s more, I didn’t campaign on her behalf. I could’ve “easily” made calls or knocked on doors or what-have-you for her sake at “no cost” to me, but I didn’t. As a result, according to them, I was complicit in her electoral defeat.

Could I have told people to vote for Hillary Clinton? Sure. I don’t consider myself any great person-to-person salesman, but I could’ve made the effort. Although this would present a weird sort of dissonance between my advocacy and my personal choice. Why am I instructing people not to vote for Trump and choose Clinton instead when I myself am choosing neither? Then again, I could’ve chosen to vote for Hillary, or simply lied about my choice, assuming anyone ever asked. I also could’ve tried to lobotomize myself with a fork to forget anything that happened leading up to the election. That’s the thing with hypotheticals—you can go any number of ways with them, no matter how unlikely or painful.

Eventually, it became evident that these two gentlemen were demanding that I apologize, but in a way that could make them feel better about accepting me as one of them—a liberal, a progressive, a member of the “Resistance, etc.—rather than simply apologizing to immigrant populations and people of color for “putting my white privilege above” their more immediate worries. My original critic was unequivocal in his demands: “You need to apologize.” His colleague and my second critic, reacting to my expressed feeling that relitigating the 2016 election only to quarrel among various factions on the left was of limited use and that we need to be more forward-thinking in our approach to 2018, 2020, and beyond, was likewise stern in his disapproval. As he stressed, you can’t just do something shitty, say “let’s move on,” and be done with it. I would have to admit my wrongdoing, or he and others would reserve the right to judge me negatively. Such was my “choice.”

Ultimately, my parting remarks were to reiterate my positions as stated above, and to insist that people not be shamed for their vote as part of some scapegoating exercise against third-party/independent voters. I also closed by telling my second critic in particular—someone very critical of me on a personal level despite barely knowing me—that I hope his recruitment efforts as an organizer are handled with more aplomb. End of discussion, at least on my end, and click on that Unfriend button. Now you guys don’t have to fret about having to work with me—because I won’t work with you unless I have to.


The unfortunate thing about this conversation—other than that I let it happen—was that it grew so contentious despite the idea we seemed to agree on a lot of points. For one, I conceded my privilege in voting the way I did, something I have characterized as not merely being about race, but of geographical privilege as well. I would submit that admitting privilege is only a small part of the solution, however.

A more constructive recognition of inequality between people of different ethnicities, I would argue, involves advocacy for those who can’t vote, those who should be able to vote, or those who can vote, but otherwise find obstacles in access to the polls. On the latter note, there are numerous reforms that can be enacted or more widely used to expand the voter pool in a legitimate way. These include automatic voter registration, increased availability of the absentee ballot and early voting options, making Election Day a national holiday, and opening and staffing additional polling places in areas where election officials are unable to meet the demand of voting constituents.

Moreover, these issues can be addressed concomitantly with issues that affect all voters, including the electoral vote vs. the popular vote, ensuring the integrity of machine-based voting with paper records, gerrymandering designed purely for one party’s political advantage, the influence of Citizens United on campaign finance laws, and ranked-choice voting as an alternative to a winner-takes-all format. American elections have a lot of avenues for potential improvement, and particularly salient are those that disproportionately affect people of color.

I also conceded that I could have done more and can still do more on behalf of undocumented immigrant families, especially as it regards the separation of children from their parents, and this recognition more than anything merits an apology on my part, so to those negatively impacted by the policies of this administration, I am sorry. By this token, many of us could probably do more. Hearing of so many horror stories of young children being traumatized and parents being deliberately deceived by Border Patrol agents is disheartening, to say the least, and as powerless as many of us may feel in times like these, there are ways to contribute, even if it seems like something fairly small.

There seems to be no shortage of marches and protests designed to elevate awareness of the severity of the crisis facing immigrants and asylum seekers, notably from Mexico and Central America, as well as groups devoted to advocating for and defending the most vulnerable among us that can use your contributions. RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) jump to mind, but there are numerous possible recipients of much-needed donations. As always, be sure to do your homework regarding the reputation of any charity you seek out.

Though it may go without saying, you can also contact the office of your senators and the representative of your district to express your desire that they support any legislation which puts an end (hint: not the House GOP bill) to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” on illegal immigration, and to thank them for signing on in the event they do. If they don’t accede to or even acknowledge your request, keep trying. As it must be remembered, these lawmakers serve us—not the other way around.

The point I refuse to concede, however, is that I should apologize for my vote for Jill Stein in a state won by Hillary Clinton when I neither voted for nor supported Donald Trump, when both major parties have contributed to destructive immigration policies over the years, when Democrats lost an election they most likely shouldn’t have lost, and when this same losing party refuses to own its shortcomings and open the door to real reform, instead only becoming more calcified. That is, I certainly won’t apologize merely to assuage the concerns of fellow Democrats and liberals. Now is the time for a dialog, not a lecture, and certainly not the time for endless dissection of the 2016 presidential election and guilting conscientious objectors. At a point when we should be working together, I reject this means of tearing one another apart.

To view this post as it appears on Citizen Truth, click here. Citizen Truth is an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm, and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations. For more on CT, please visit citizentruth.org.

Let’s Blame Millennials for Everything

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Seriously, though, Bloomberg—what did millennials ever do to you? (Image Source: Screenshots via Bloomberg. Retrieved from gizmodo.com)

Twice in recent memory, high-profile conservatives took the opportunity on social media to take crass potshots at a subset of Americans, specifically a particular age group. Joe Scarborough took to Twitter on August 7 to opine on—what else?—the perceived laziness of millennials today. He Tweeted:

Young men in the 1940s liberated Europe from Nazism and the Pacific from the Japanese Empire. Today, too many stay home playing video games.

There are any number of ways in which one can dissect this statement, not the least of which is that there weren’t video games in the 1940s, so how can we compare the two generations, let alone assume young men (or women) wouldn’t have played video games if they had them back then? For one, Scarborough is pining for an era when we had a freaking World War, one in which over 400,000 military deaths were recorded just from the United States. As any number of parents of millennial men might (and did) respond to these sentiments, it’s a good thing their children are not going off to fight and die in a bloody conflict, let alone being drafted involuntarily into one. Even better yet, this notion underestimates and undersells the importance of younger Americans to today’s Armed Forces. As of 2015, the average enlisted member of the U.S. military was 27 years of age, and the average officer was still under the age of 35. Seeing as you wouldn’t expect the demographics to change that profoundly in two years’ time, the idea that millennials are shiftless non-contributors to the betterment of society is patently false.

Tomi Lahren also used her platform as a telegenic conservative to assail millennial males for being inadequate as manly, masculine men, Tweeting this:

As I watch millennial men struggle to lift their bags into the overhead bin I am reminded how f’d we are if there’s a draft.

Aren’t you sharp as a tack, Ms. Lahren? As with Joe Scarborough’s dumb Tweet, there were manifold ways in which Lahren could be criticized for her insensitivity. For starters, she herself is a millennial, so she comes across as somewhat of a self-hating snob right out of the gate. Then there’s the idea overhead storage bins are not part of military training exercises or service requirements, and in the event of compulsory service, probably wouldn’t be enough of a disqualifier anyway. Once more, and to top it all off, we have the aforementioned statistics on average age of those served and those receiving special commendations for their service to debunk the notion that millennials are incapable of serving in the Armed Forces with distinction—male or female. Tomi Lahren tried to brush this off as a mere joke, but regardless, this remark is as unfunny as it is inaccurate.

Joe Scarborough’s and Tomi Lahren’s musings on the supposed military unpreparedness of today’s young adults require little time to dispel because A) neither individual can claim distinguished a service record of his/her own, and B) because they are both generally ill-informed and espouse the opinions of entitled assholes. I invoke their words, however, because, even outside of military contexts, millennials tend to get dragged by news media and on social media alike. Google search “millennials kill” (or Bing search—if you’re one of those people), and you’ll instantly have at your fingers umpteen articles and blog posts either asking if millennials are killing a particular industry or institution, or outright proclaiming that they are. Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Cars. Cereal. Credit. Crowd-funding. Golf. Good manners. Home Depot. Hotels. McDonald’s. Movies. Napkins. Relationships. Retail, in general. Soap. Trees. Wine. If at any point someone or something goes on a decline, millennials will probably be blamed for it. Because apparently, they are responsible for the fates of all these things and more. Right.

Based on when I was born, I fall under the amorphous and expansive umbrella that is the millennial generation, so it is not as if I am an unbiased party to this conversation. That said, I take issue with the sentiment that young adults, because of presumed bad habits or fatal flaws, are trying to intentionally ruin all these bastions of goodness. In fact, some of them may not be all that meritorious in the first place, or at least possess certain drawbacks. Golf is a fine sport, but the country club/elitist aspect of memberships at so many courses has understandably made it hard to attract new blood to the game. McDonald’s has healthier options on its menu, but at heart is still fast food contributing to the expansion of Americans’ waistlines as well as those of an international market. Napkins are frequently thrown out or otherwise wasted when handed out in bunches. Trees? Killing machines! OK, so that last one was tongue-in-cheek, but in the other cases, these challenges were likely to be faced by these industries and institutions even before millennials had enough spending power to impact them one way or another. As with the idea that machines and outsourcing are killing jobs in the United States, for those areas which have yielded to changing employment trends, the forces which set them into motion were themselves set into motion many moons ago and probably on a larger scale than one generation could hope to reverse by its lonesome.

As blaming millennials intersects with the 2016 election, you can bet your bottom dollar analysts singled out younger voters as a reason Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the general election. It was because millennials didn’t come out and vote like they did for Barack Obama, especially in swing states. It was because they voted instead for third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. If only they had come out in force to thwart the evil orange one. These stupid spoiled brats just couldn’t be bothered to do what was right for the country. Couldn’t they have put their avocados and their phones down for five seconds and hauled their asses down to their polling places? An unrepentant Stein voter myself, I disagree on many levels with what I see as rather facile explanations for what transpired this past November. Here are just a few of my rebuttals to the notion the blame for President Trump rests squarely on the shoulders of millennials:

1. The onus should be on the major-party candidate to win.

The Democratic Party put all their proverbial eggs in one basket when they sold out for Hillary and did what they could to submarine Bernie Sanders’ chances to win the nomination. This meant getting behind a deeply unpopular candidate, one almost as unwell-liked as Donald Trump and one who had low appeal to those on the fence or who identify as a third-party/independent voter. Thus, while there were legitimate reasons to gripe about interference in the election, whether this was from Russian operatives or James Comey, there were definite strategic miscues from the Clinton campaign and party leadership. Such as, you know, all but ignoring key battleground states. Hillary Clinton’s message to voters seemed to be, “Hey, I know you don’t really like or trust me, but I’m better than that jackass Trump. Take it or leave it.” If you’re worried about eligible voters not showing up at all, that’s not a real inspiring rallying call, such that if you’re losing numbers to the Green and Libertarian Parties, or worse, None of the Above, that’s on you as the face of one of the two major parties.

2. What about all those other non-voters?

Millennials made up about 19 percent of the electorate in 2016, roughly the same percentage recorded in 2012. According to the United States Election Project, however, approximately 45% of eligible voters didn’t turn out this past November. For the biggest election in history (aren’t they all?), that’s a pretty poor turnout, and obviously not one that would find younger voters wholly culpable. People who can vote but choose not to vote is not a concern to be diminished, but what about those people who want to vote but have obstacles placed in their way, or certain classes of Americans who are specifically barred from voting, such as felons? If the Democrats were really concerned about turnout, they would more strongly address the improper purging of voters from the rolls across states, gerrymandering, polling place closures, and other methods of voter disenfranchisement. Chasing wealthy donors can only take you so far when it comes to garnering votes from the rank-and-file portion of the electorate.

3. What about all those Trump voters?

You know, the 60+ million who came out for a man who has denigrated the disabled, Mexicans, Muslims, news reporting in general, other people of color, veterans, women, and probably more groups I can’t bring to mind right now. Millennials didn’t come out for Hillary Clinton nearly as robustly as they did for Barack Obama, but this doesn’t mean that they necessarily went to “the dark side” either. Younger voters easily sided with Clinton over Trump, with the gap proving even wider among members of minority groups. Exit polls suggest that older white males with lesser amounts of formal education were favorable to Trump, as well as evangelicals and Christians on the whole. For all those pointing to millennials as the biggest factor in Donald Trump’s upset victory, three fingers point back at 50-plus-year-old voters motivated by feelings of loss of privilege and who bought the portrayal of the United States as a country being overrun by illegal immigrants and threatened by ISIS/refugees. But sure—let’s beat up on younger voters, many who have not had the chance to vote and screw things up like we’ve been doing for years.

4. Donald Trump is not a starting point, but a reiteration of long-standing political and social trends.

We’ve never seen a presidential candidate, or for that matter, a president quite like Donald Trump. And yet, his rhetoric is not unfamiliar. Leading up to the election, Trump billed himself as the “law and order” candidate, but it was on the strength of a hippie-hating, tough-on-crime attitude that Richard Nixon ascended to the top political office in the land. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also leveraged fear about crime and, well, minorities in general as part of their law enforcement policy, taking Nixon’s “war on drugs” and pushing its precepts into overdrive, bringing mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes laws and other hallmarks of an already-questionable anti-drug approach into the fold. As for the kind of racism and xenophobia that Trump has pretty much openly encouraged, America is no stranger to discrimination and outward shows of prejudice. We are not far removed, comparatively speaking, from the days of lynchings in the streets of blacks and segregated schools and institutions, and realistically, even when this divisiveness is not explicitly enforced, it exists as part of de facto standards that continue to drive growing disparities along racial and socioeconomic lines. Following eight years of Barack Obama and a burgeoning national sensitivity to social injustice, not to mention a heightened appreciation for the virtues of multiculturalism, it was perhaps only natural a backlash would occur led by whites feeling a sense of loss as a function of their diminished privilege, lost jobs, and inability to cope with and understanding a rapidly changing world. In the ebb and flow of the movement toward progress, the United States under Trump is unquestionably experiencing a receding of its metaphorical tide.

Donald Trump, in short, exploited this reactionary tendency of American attitudes over time. Before we give him the lion’s share of the credit, however, let’s stress that Trump wouldn’t have been able to reach the heights he has without the help of key enabling parties. Speaking of parties, the Republicans obviously gave him quite a push, paving the way for his appeal by pandering to the ultra-rich in terms of fiscal conservatism and the ultra-right-wing in terms of religious/social conservatism. You know, besides trotting out a sorry morass of candidates. I mean, Ted Cruz was one of the major players on the G.O.P. side of things—and even his own kids don’t like him that much! The Democrats, meanwhile, also aided and abetted Trumpism, fielding their own highly unpopular candidate, and over the years not doing enough to resist Republican attempts to diminish union participation and voting rights, or engage working-class Americans in a way which encourages their prolonged involvement on behalf of the Dems. Indeed, the Democratic Party’s identity today as a largely centrist, corporatist entity has hurt its performance in elections at every level, and what’s more, it appears party leadership does not fully comprehend this dynamic.

Last but not least, the news media have, by and large, sacrificed their accountability and integrity in reporting about Trump—or at least did so in advance of that fateful day in November—in the push for ratings and clicks. Even now, reporting will prove critical of each new turn in the dumpster-fire saga that is Donald Trump’s presidency, but will lose some detail in the distraction shell game created between what #45 Tweets and says, and what his administration and a Republican-led Congress are actually doing. Have we forgotten how he defrauded scores of investors with the farcical Trump University? Are we done mentioning how he spends weekend after weekend at one of his resorts, enriching himself at our expense? Do we ignore that his career as a “successful” businessman has been riddled with missteps and outright failures? These are essential tidbits of information, and to bypass them in light of some vague concept of respect for the presidency or “fairness in reporting” is arguably all but a dereliction of duty.


Attempts to understand successive generations—and the ensuing failure to do so for some leading to a roving antipathy for today’s youth—are as American as baseball and apple pie. Even if we’ve never directly experienced the kind of intergenerational conflict we’ve undoubtedly seen across entertainment media, we, as a result, know the stereotypical lines associated with generational divides. Turn down that music! Cut that hair, hippie! Show some gumption! As a millennial, I’ve encountered my fair share of societal pressures related to the gulf of expectations which exists as a function of interactions between individuals of different ages. Why, when I was 30, I was married, had two kids, had a house, and was well along in my career! And I loved it! Then again, I myself have trouble understanding members of my own generation sometimes, let alone those younger than me. What is so interesting about you taking a selfie on the bus to New York City? And, with all that we now know about the dangers of cigarettes, why are you smoking? I mean, we all have our vices, but at least with a chicken parm sub I am satisfying my base needs in the form of hunger. CHICKEN PARM—YOU TASTE SO GOOD!

Millennials, riding along in their Ubers while drinking their kale smoothies, have become just the latest group for those older and not necessarily wiser to scapegoat for whatever ails the nation. While this does not totally absolve young adults of their role in producing negative outcomes, including that of the 2016 election, in many cases, their share of the blame appears wildly overstated, and I have to think a lot of this sentiment betrays a thinly-veiled resentment toward their lot. So, how do we overcome this? Well, as with any cultural clash between groups, facilitating a dialog seems to be of paramount importance. I want a wife and family and house, and maybe even a dog and a cat—but I want it on my terms. You may see this as selfish, but I see it as self-interested, and that distinction means a lot. Alongside encouraging a conversation, there is, as well, merit in looking inward. At a park near where I live, I saw a sign that read—and I’m paraphrasing—”Before you complain, have you considered volunteering?” Time, money, and other obligations get in the way, of course, but if it’s truly worth the sacrifice, maybe you—yes, you!—could stand to do more. If you can. Not trying to harsh anyone’s mellow over here.

Millennials: we may not be perfect, but we’re not that unlike you. And we certainly aren’t the guilty killers of all that is good that sensational headlines have made us out to be.

Trump’s Election Commission is a Crock of Shit (But You Probably Already Knew That)

kris-kobach
“Look at this guy! He’s as big of a racist asshole as I am!” (Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ladies and gentlemen, President Donald Trump is very concerned about the integrity of the results of our elections. Very, very concerned. In fact, President Trump is so concerned about rooting out voter fraud that he created a special election commission devoted to this purpose, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice-chaired by Kris Kobach, Kansas’s Secretary of State. In its letter to the Secretaries of State of all 50 states, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity reportedly asks for names, addresses, birth dates, and party affiliations of all registered voters, as well as felony convictions, military statuses, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, and voting records dating back as far as 10 years ago. It’s a lot of information that’s being requested, and potentially sensitive information, at that. This explains why roughly 9 out of 10 responding states have told Trump and his commission, in a manner of speaking, to go screw. In fact, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a fellow Republican, had this to say of the Commission’s inquest: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.” Ending on a preposition notwithstanding, these are tough words, and quite the negative response irrespective of party affiliation of the government official.

Often, proposed policies and ideological stances will be euphemistically titled or otherwise surreptitiously structured so that the superficial idea seems appealing or plausible when the underlying intent of the shift is of ill intent. “Right to work” legislation has awful implications for unions and other forms of organized labor, but having more rights is better, no? The concept of school choice is patently destructive to public schools and only helps to further divisions based on race and socioeconomic status in our country, but choice is a good thing, right? The aims of the Presidential Advisory Commission, meanwhile, even on their surface do not pass the smell test. Since scoring his upset electoral victory in November, Donald Trump has consistently invoked claims of voter fraud as the reason he, too, lost the popular vote. Millions of “illegals” aiding Hillary’s cause! Rampant, widespread fraud! California, a hotbed of electoral impropriety! Except that exactly as much as Trump and members of the alt-right have advanced conspiracy theories to this effect, actual reputable sources have consistently refuted them. Time and time again. Despite it seeming almost silly now, it must be emphasized and re-emphasized that there is no credible, verifiable evidence for Trump’s claims. They are as hollow as those of his absurd and hateful birther claims levied against Barack Obama. And yet, his cadre of supporters holds on to notions like these in the face of any and all disconfirming proof. It fits the narrative they wish so desperately to believe.

Hence why all but a handful of states have pledged to refuse the Commission’s request, at least in part. Whether based on the illegitimacy of Pres. Trump’s claims, the sensitivity of the information involved (especially SSNs, political party affiliations, and birth dates), or both, a number of Secretaries of State charged with responding to the electoral commission’s supposed fact-finding mission have rejected what they consider to be a rather flagrant example of government overreach and violation of privacy. Now, on one hand, some might construe this widespread antipathy to the work of Kris Kobach and Company as unreasonable and hiding an ulterior motive. And by “some,” I mean essentially just Donald Trump, who took to—you guessed it—Twitter to cast his aspersions, suggesting those states who won’t play ball with his “very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL” might be hiding something. Right. 40+ states are conspiring to hide pervasive, unsubstantiated fraud all for the purpose of? Making the President look bad? Does everyone have an ax to grind against Donald Trump? Even those led by Republicans? As with Trump’s attacks on the media and shameless reposting of Photoshopped GIFs depicting himself landing wrestling moves on a fighter with a CNN head, this kind of rhetoric and inflammatory imagery would be worthy of mockery but for his stature and the tone it sets for elevating him as a cult figure above time-honored American institutions. Unsubstantiated as his claims are, Trump and his level of discourse are yet dangerous.

Going back to the idea of policy as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and while there is little to redeem the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity even on its face, as with other better-constructed parts of a broadly-stated conservative agenda, there are more sinister applications to this push for “voting integrity.” As Bridgette Dunlap, writing for Rolling Stone, explains, the Commission is really about voter suppression, and we need look no further than the figure at the center of this whole operation. From Dunlap’s piece:

Trump’s commission is led by Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who’s now running for governor. Kobach is the legal mind behind a slew of anti-immigrant and anti-voter laws implemented across the country, many of which have been struck down by courts. He’s been called “the king of voter suppression” by the ACLU and “the most racist politician in America” by Kansas’ Senate minority leader. Kobach was such a dedicated birther that he demanded even more information after Obama released his birth certificate before placing him on the Kansas ballot. He was recently fined by a federal court in a case challenging his state’s voter restrictions for making “patently misleading representations to the court” regarding a memo he provided to Trump about such restrictions.

More racist than even Steve King, Representative from the state of Iowa? That’s pretty racist! OK, OK—even if the source of that comment was speaking in hyperbole, Kobach’s is the kind of history which fails to inspire confidence in his ability to ensure election integrity. In fact, given his track record, “integrity” is not a word that should enter one’s vocabulary, regardless of the context. Like any number of Pres. Trump’s appointees, Kris Kobach appears to have been selected specifically to undermine the office or function he was tapped to represent. Forget for the moment the request for personal identifying information may be illegal on numerous counts—as Dunlap details, it probably violates both the Privacy Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act, and has already been challenged in court by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Bridgette Dunlap notes how Kobach has been a vocal supporter of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is designed to weed out fraud by comparing voter registrations in different states and eliminating duplicates based on name and birth date. Sounds great, right? Except that it produces scores of false positives from different people who possess common names and therefore easily may share both a name and a birth date, or seeks to assign intent to defraud when the same person is registered in two different states and he or she may simply have moved. This is the kind of faulty system that Kris Kobach champions, one that nullifies voters who are legitimately registered for the privilege. As Dunlap alleges, Kobach knows this full well, and is charged with facilitating the completion of a database that serves to “produce junk analysis to support [his] claims that people are voting in multiple states and noncitizens are voting in large numbers.” The concept of pervasive voter fraud is a gigantic red herring, but again, it feeds into the story that undocumented immigrants are not only taking our jobs, but stealing our elections as well. Quite the sleight of hand from the election officials who are truly pulling the strings, no?


Bridgette Dunlap leaves us with some reasons for optimism, albeit a cautious brand of optimism, at the end of her article. Her closing remarks:

The U.S. has an ugly history of racially discriminatory voting laws. Trump and Kobach have made it impossible for anyone who cares about empirical evidence to deny this is the latest chapter. But whether state Republican officials will continue to protect voters in defiance of Trump, or join him in winning elections by any means necessary, remains to be seen.

What Dunlap seems to be saying is that Donald Trump and Kris Kobach have done and said enough that it should be objectively clear that their election commission, of flimsy standing to begin with, is even less meritorious than stated and designed specifically to disenfranchise voters from minority groups. The key word here is should. More and more, members of the GOP and conservatives appear to be more than just amenable to arguments that show a disdain for facts—in fact, they look to be embracing such a mentality (before we get ahead of ourselves here, Democratic supporters also increasingly seem to be falling prey to fake news and judgments based on opinions, not verifiable facts). So, how exactly has this prevailing trend within the Republican Party manifested itself with specific respect to voting rights? Greg Palast, in another piece which appeared in Rolling Stone, addresses what he calls the “GOP’s stealth war against voters.” The aforementioned Crosscheck Program appears front and center in Palast’s analysis, and a key passage in his article governs the purging of voter records predominately among non-whites.

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

Swedlund’s statistical analysis found that African-American, Latino and Asian names predominate, a simple result of the Crosscheck matching process, which spews out little more than a bunch of common names. No surprise: The U.S. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of 100 of the most common last names. If your name is Washington, there’s an 89 percent chance you’re African-American. If your last name is Hernandez, there’s a 94 percent chance you’re Hispanic. If your name is Kim, there’s a 95 percent chance you’re Asian.

This inherent bias results in an astonishing one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian-Americans and one in nine African-Americans in Crosscheck states landing on the list. Was the program designed to target voters of color? “I’m a data guy,” Swedlund says. “I can’t tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities.”

Now, does this correlation prove causation? Well, no, correlation never does, and furthermore, can produce false positives. For the sake of a classical example, ice cream sales and violent crime are strongly positively correlated—not because the ne’er-do-wells among us have a sweet tooth, mind you—but because both ice cream sales and violent crime become more frequent when it’s hot out. This is to say that there is a confounding variable. Still, even if we can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Crosscheck Program is blatantly discriminatory, that its performance in producing arrests is so poor in spite of allegations of widespread malfeasance is reason enough to put the program into question. Of course, another way to look at this matter is to say that Crosscheck is doing a fine job of deterring fraud. It’s a stupid way to look at it, but it’s another way. You can’t prevent rampant fraud when it doesn’t exist in the first place.

So, voter suppression methods like the Crosscheck Program don’t actually root out voter fraud. Furthermore, they produce results which serve to discriminate against minorities of all makes and models. Beyond the wastefulness and the unfairness of this all, is there a yet larger significance? You bet your patootie, there is! Let’s check in with our friend Greg Palast again, and review a piece he penned immediately after the 2016 election. You see, Palast is an investigative journalist, and through his analysis of Donald Trump’s margins of victory in key battleground states such as Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina alongside the figures of purged voting records from each of these jurisdictions, he concluded—not merely to be grandiose or inflammatory—that the Republican Party and Trump’s operatives helped steal the election. Chief among those operatives is none other than—you guessed it—Kris Kobach, and Crosscheck is also waiting in the weeds. Moreover, as Palast details, this voter suppression explains in large part why exit polls on the day of the election could have been so poorly predictive of the actual results. As he instructs, exit polls can only assess who voted for whom. They can’t, meanwhile, know whose vote was counted and whose vote was not. Indeed, Greg Palast asserts that based on the evidence, it was Jim Crow, not the voters, who elected Trump. He sums up his thoughts nicely with the following:

This country is violently divided, but in the end, there simply aren’t enough white guys to elect Trump nor a Republican Senate.  The only way they could win was to eliminate the votes of non-white guys—and they did so by tossing Black provisional ballots into the dumpster, ID laws that turn away students—the list goes on.  It’s a web of complex obstacles to voting by citizens of color topped by that lying spider, Crosscheck.

In short, the fix was in. Granted, this doesn’t excuse the poor strategy employed by Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and the Democratic National Committee, nor does it exculpate the Democratic Party of its larger structural flaws re its losses in congressional races, but it certainly adds context. And it provides a point of focus for political activists across the political spectrum in the critical area of election reform. Because when elections are stolen, we all lose.


Assuming Greg Palast’s analysis is correct—and I have no reason to doubt it, mind you—and given what we know of Donald Trump, Kris Kobach, and the Republican Party, the considerations within this piece are markedly frustrating. Trump is a fraud masquerading as a legitimate President—who, backed by Kobach, is pushing a voter suppression agenda masquerading as a legitimate operation to deter and eliminate fraud. The layers of illegitimacy are both astounding and aggravating. Cue the #NotMyPresident and #NotMyCommission hashtags. What makes the very existence of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity all the more irksome is that while some of us who are just average citizens and not even all that well versed in the subject of voting rights get that this operation is a sham, more Secretaries of State who do possess the requisite experience and, furthermore, are charged with safeguarding the sensitive identifying information of their constituents aren’t likewise telling Trump and Co. to go jump in the ocean. Even if states are pledging only to share information that is already available to the public and nothing more, that they would give the Commission credence is either a symbol of their complicity, their incompetence, or both. The same goes for those states and Secretaries of State who are “still reviewing” the request or “still waiting” for a letter—and you can add their symbolic cowardice to the mix of what their response or lack thereof may represent.

This commission and the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Registration are just two examples of devices and techniques which serve to actively bar/suppress voter turnout or otherwise purge legitimate voters from minority communities. Denying the vote to felons, disinformation campaigns, photo ID laws, strategic closure of polling places, and voter caging are just some of the methods employed to this effect. Returning to the concept of Democratic Party electoral approach, while the Dems definitely should be criticized for adhering to a losing strategy denoted by the absence of a unified path forward and for failure to credibly invite progressives and working-class Americans to the table, that they are not more robustly fighting this aspect of a white conservative Republican agenda only speaks to their questionable priorities, i.e. big-ticket donations and special interests over true grassroots fundraising and organization. In other words, they don’t give a shit about the little guy much more than the Republicans do—if at all.

As usual, meaningful change in this area will have to come from the bottom-up, not to sound like too much of a Bernie Sanders supporter. We as voters must keep one another informed and demand accountability from our officials on matters of voting rights and voter suppression for the sake of all voters, and maintain this involvement and pressure on those charged with ensuring our privacy and the sanctity of the voting process throughout our campaign and theirs. Donald Trump’s election integrity commission is a crock of shit because he is pointing to a level of voter fraud that doesn’t exist, but this doesn’t mean our system is perfect and that there aren’t important issues to address. Far from it, in fact.

Right-to-Work—Not Right, Especially Not for Workers

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Sure, right-to-work has nothing to do with the actual right to work and depresses wages for union and non-union workers, but let’s keep misleading people and extolling its virtues. (Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP)

I consider my father to be an intelligent individual. Before recently retiring, he worked for several decades as an accountant, and toward the end of his gainful employment, he also served as a human resources director of sorts, absorbing most of the functions that a full-time, HR-exclusive professional would for a small business. He is quick-witted, has a good sense of humor, and continually tries to improve himself by challenging himself physically and mentally. With respect to politics, however, I feel his judgment lately is somewhat suspect, especially as it errs on the side of the conservative. My parents are both lifelong Democrats, and at one point, Dad even joked that he would vote for an ax murderer if he were a Democrat rather than a Republican. (My father does not deny outright that he said this, but he does not admit it either, and legitimately or not, claims not to remember this statement.)

With this personal political history in mind, it caused the rest of the family great concern earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign when Dad said he was considering voting for Donald Trump. For someone on the Republican ticket, Trump’s legacy as a conservative was notably lacking, so the idea that the family patriarch would be considering a vote for a GOP candidate was not immediately so alarming. His apparent support for Trump, a grade-A asshole, meanwhile, was. Mom, an avowed believer in Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than wanting to see a woman become President, belabored the point whenever the election or politics came up. Dad responded by saying that he liked Trump because he was straightforward and “not a politician.” On this note, I agreed that politicians and politics as usual had justifiably driven resistance to “establishment” or “mainstream” figures within both parties, and thereby had helped fuel the billionaire’s appeal. But electing Donald Trump as President of the United States, I argued, was like, because you didn’t enjoy Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, burning down the whole library in protest. Even as a symbolic gesture, a vote for Trump was a vote for hate and a vote against reason and, you know, actually being qualified for one’s intended office.

Eventually, my father began to sour on Donald Trump, not so much because of his intended policies—or lack thereof—but mostly with respect to his denigration of women. As good as any reason not to cast a vote for the man, as far as I was concerned. To wit, I don’t know who Dad voted for this past November. All I know is that since the election and in the months since, every time a discussion of a remotely political nature has threatened to rear its head in our house, he has sought to put the kibosh on it, plaintively asking, “Do we have to talk about politics?” Accordingly, it is pretty rare that my father makes any political commentary unsolicited. (His social commentary is more regular, though no less disturbing, particularly as it concerns anti-feminist attitudes or criticisms of appeals to diversity and political correctness.)

One area where Dad has been notably vocal, though, and a point on which I patently disagree with him, is the subject of unions and other professional organizations. Whether it is because of his experience in the human resources realm or in spite of it, or even related to my mother’s dealings with union representation (Mom is a registered nurse), I can’t say for sure, but suffice it to say, Pops believes unions are “ruining this country.” Harsh words, but Dad is certainly not alone in his antipathy to these organizations. In 2013, Al Lewis, now-business editor of The Houston Chronicle and then-Dow Jones Newswires reporter, Wall Street Journal columnist, and writer for MarketWatch, explored America’s distaste for unions alongside their apparent acceptance or tacit compliance of many with standard operating procedure for corporations and the executives who manage them. Lewis describes the psychology of anti-union sentiment:

Unions…could counter many of the economic injustices that plague America. Unfortunately, unions have lost their power to do so. Union membership in the private sector is down to 6.6 percent of all workers, [a] Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed. In the public sector, 35.9 percent of all employees remain unionized.

This is why, as Americans, we often view unions as a cause of higher taxes. We also are still wondering where the mob buried former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. We sense a more subtle form of institutional corruption in the unions’ alignment with mostly Democratic politicians. We detest the extra layer of bureaucracy unions add to any workplace. And we suspect that it can kill business.

The pension liabilities some companies have amassed in past union negotiations simply blow our minds. And we are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers. So by now, most Americans have decided they don’t want to be in a union, even if the decline of unions correlates to the decline of the middle class.

The perception of union leaders as not merely working with political leaders, but for them or in cahoots with them, certainly would seem to work against acceptance of the abstract concept of unions in the United States, as does the image of the union leader earning a comparatively exorbitant salary next to the members of the organization he or she represents, or unions lobbying for their pensions even with many states and municipalities in a state of financial turmoil. More than mere politics or even morality, however, Al Lewis speaks to implicitly-held theories of leadership and who or what types of individuals are capable of leading groups of workers. “We are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers.”

Right there, we have a sense of the larger and more pervasive attitude toward those at the top of the hierarchy and those forming the base of the pyramid. Those at the top are presumed to have superior management and leadership skills, not to mention acumen in their given field. Those at the bottom are presumed to be deficient in such skills, drones born to follow rather than lead. Especially as it concerns trade professionals, there exists a stereotype of the blue-collar worker as fat, lazy, stupid, or all three. You know the idea—the plumber crouched over his work, his rear-end barely concealed by his briefs and sagging jeans. There is undoubtedly a perception gap when it comes to these two groups, a phenomenon further expounded upon by Lewis to conclude his piece:

Americans hate organized labor, but somehow they do not hate organized management. As the labor unions have declined, professional corporate managers have formed increasingly powerful guilds of their own. They belong to elite groups, such as the Business Roundtable or the Trilateral Commission, to name a couple. Many are even having a little cabal in Davos, Switzerland this week. What? You thought that was about improving the world? This is how they end up on each other’s boards, approving each others’ compensation packages.

In this subtle way, CEOs have built the most successful union in all of history. You ask a company why it pays its CEO so much, and the answer is always because it is what all the other CEOs get paid. All the other CEOs who sit on each others’ boards, that is.

It is the greatest spin job in all of economics and politics. When someone making $943 a week tries to organize, and fend for their own economic interests, Americans have been conditioned to call it socialism. But when someone making several hundred thousand dollars a week does it, they call it free enterprise.

The many, in other words, look up to the few, and as part of this aspirational model, look down upon their present station, or simply down upon those who they believe exist at a lower echelon than them. In the context of unions, when workers organize and try to buck the paradigm of the survival of the fittest paradigm, we have been conditioned to view it as a violation and an aberration rather than the way things should work. As Mr. Lewis intimates, somehow we have been led to associate the activities of professional organizations with greed and excess, or even asking for something undeserved, when executive compensation packages continue to reach obscene levels, even in the face of scandal. Simply put, the American people, by and large, seem to have it backwards when it comes to how they regard the balance of power in our society.


Republican Governors Snyder and Walker attend National Governors Assoc Winter Meetings in Washington
Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, and Chris Christie have all taken hard-line positions against union workers. They also all happen to be shitty governors. Coincidence? (Photo Credits: Reuters/Brian Frank/Mike Theiler/Mike Blake)

So, yes, likewise simply put, public support for unions has been on the decline, as has participation from workers in those professions who might stand to become or remain members. As of the date of publication of Al Lewis’s article, union membership was down to 11.3% of all workers, a level the author notes is the lowest the United States of America has seen since the Great Depression. Rarely are comparisons to the Great Depression ever a good thing for trends involving employment and labor. This historical perspective alongside current negative feelings about organized labor forms the backdrop for the much-politicized battle over the responsibilities and rights of workers in relation to unions, often correlating with party affiliation. Journalist and academic Thomas Edsall, in an op-ed appearing in The New York Times back in 2014, phrased this succinctly with the very title of his essay, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions.” Edsall elaborates on the depth of the GOP’s war on unions as fueled by stronger conservatives within its ranks:

Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.

Those familiar with the evolution of the Republican Party over the past few decades should not see this reality as much of a surprise. The GOP has become unflinchingly pro-business in its adoption of fiscally and socially conservative positions, to a fault and to the extent that they have sought to undermine regulations on corporations, other businesses, and whole industries (e.g. banking and finance) because they view them as bad for business. Unions, seen as a constraint of a different sort and emblematic of the type of bureaucracy conservatives always claim to want to bypass, are therefore a prime target for Republican lawmakers and state leaders. Three Republican governors in particular are cited for their anti-labor hostility and posturing in Edsall’s op-ed. The first is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and early 2016 presidential race dropout. The second is Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, who we now know was a key player in the lead-filled dumpster fire that is Flint’s water crisis. The last is my personal favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose administration engineered Bridgegate and who has gone after the teachers’ union with fetishistic fury. Many people, myself included, would characterize actions taken by all three during their tenures, especially those leading to the crisis in Flint, as reprehensible. Does this necessarily mean that their positions on unions are therefore wrong? Well, no. But let me tell you—it doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either.

Again, the Republican resistance to union participation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Democrats’ failure to meet this war on organized labor in kind, however, is vaguely disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising either, if you understand the schism within the Democratic Party between its establishment wing replete with big-money donors, and its progressive wing predicated on grassroots funding and organizing, as well as advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Thomas Edsall puts the nature of the Democrats’ weak defense of unions in blunt terms: “If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.” In saying as much, Edsall points to the Obama administration’s undermining “of the bargaining power of the most successful unions by imposing a 40% excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare.” These so-called “Cadillac plans,” Edsall continues, intended as a luxury tax of sorts, are seen by labor leaders as threats to health insurance benefits that various unions have had to fight for with executive management of companies. As one labor leader quoted within the piece opines, non-union and union workers alike will be hurt by these plans, with non-union workers in particular at risk of having their benefits slashed and their deductibles skyrocket. To put this in different terms, and as far as labor groups are concerned, with “friends” like the 40% tax, who needs enemies?

It should be stressed that this Thomas Edsall piece was published in 2014, before the rise of Donald Trump. Even then, the Democratic Party was being lectured by Edsall and others to “neglect the union movement at their own peril.” Accordingly, Edsall’s closing paragraphs seem duly ominous, if not presaging the disaster of a Trump presidency outright:

Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier. Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.

At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.

But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.

Translation: people are going to get pissed, and will vote accordingly. In acknowledging this effect, I, in the same breath, acknowledge that there was—as crazy as might seem at first glance—a slice of the American electorate that went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to turning out for Trump in 2016. Their numbers are not insignificant, but as Sean McElwee argues, focusing on this relatively small subset of 2016 election voters obscures the real trend that should be garnering Democrats’ attention, particularly those more entrenched members of the establishment. Where Donald Trump and his campaign succeeded, and where Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Democrats including Obama have failed to manage, is mobilizing those who should be among their base to the polls. McElwee attributes a large part of this failure of the Dems to their reluctance to make voting rights a priority for various groups, a problem exacerbated by Republicans’ efforts to nullify any inherent advantages with these blocs. He explains:

When Republicans take power, their first priorities are voter suppression and right-to-work, their second is to destroy the capacity of government to aid working families and their third is to turn the government into a patronage machine for wealthy whites. Democrats have failed to understand that in order to win, they must do the opposite. Voting rights must be a priority, and policies should strengthen the ability of working people to organize and mobilize.

“Working people.” Sean McElwee highlights them above any other segment of the Democratic Party’s core supporters, at least traditionally speaking, and references to their “organizing” clearly invokes the importance of unions. From there, or perhaps even concurrently, Democratic leadership must invite workers and sympathetic activist/progressive groups to the table. As McElwee sees the matter, this is the only path forward for a successful Democratic Party, or to quote him directly, “Party elites will have to cede some power to make this happen.” If recent party history is any indication for the Democrats, this is easier said than done.


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If this man is introducing a piece of legislation, let alone supporting it, chances are it’s a terrible idea. (Photo Credit: Steve King)

In terms of the first priorities of the GOP underscored by McElwee in his piece and quoted above, the voter suppression angle probably isn’t that hard to understand. Numerous articles have been written about the “real” voting scandal of 2016: not the closeness of the vote in certain swing states begging a recount, not even the possible hacking of voting machines and other Russian interference in the presidential election, but voter suppression at the hands of Republicans determined to try to widen their advantage over Democrats at the polls, including by limiting opportunities of people of color to vote and creating unnecessary hurdles for them to cast their ballots. (Together with gerrymandering, these are issues of considerable importance that do not get nearly the attention they should.) Right-to-work, meanwhile, is a concept that is likely unfamiliar to the average voter, especially one from a state that does not have such a law on the books. The term “right-to-work” sounds pretty benign in it of itself. Should people have a right to work? Sure, why not? Let’s rubber stamp the bill along and call it a day, shall we?

Not so fast. It would be bad enough if “right-to-work” was a form of euphemistic language—you know, in the way “civil asset forfeiture” is another way of saying “the police gets to take your shit if you’re at all implicated in a crime and without proof of wrongdoing or even being charged.” But it’s more than that—it’s a complete misnomer. Right-to-work has nothing to go with the right to work. The University of Missouri–Kansas City recently featured a profile on right-to-work legislation in the University News, UMKC’s independent student newspaper. First, the editorial defines the term and gives context to the political debate surrounding it:

Right to work legislation prohibits unions from requiring that dues or fees be paid by all employees that it represents. This usually has the effect of weakening labor organization, as unions will have less financial power to fight for higher wages or benefits such as health care. Additionally, so-called “free riders” can take advantage of the workplace protections and benefits without contributing to the unions that acquire them. Conversely, proponents say that job growth increases because businesses prefer to operate in states with right to work laws.

Data can usually be spun by either side to support or reject the claims of the other. There is no firm consensus by economists or statisticians on the effects of right to work, as it cannot be easily isolated from other factors such as variable standards of living or the economic recovery following the recession. In general it increases job growth and in general it decreases wages, all usually in tandem with other pro-business and anti-labor policies. This is a subject where hard, unbiased data is scarce and so the debate devolves into opposing ideological and political arguments. Therefore, right to work legislation probably makes less impact as an economic policy than it does as a political call-to-arms.

This University News profile, whether to be merely diplomatic about the matter, or because it legitimately wants to be cautious because of the purported lack of “hard, unbiased data” on right-to-work legislation, describes its economic impact with an air of neutrality. Still, certain elements of this synopsis scream out to the liberal and progressive reading it and suggest a negative connotation. “Has the effect of weakening labor organization.” “‘Free riders’ can take advantage…without contributing.” “Decreases wages.” “Anti-labor.” Sure, job growth may occur, but seemingly chiefly because companies prefer to operate in climates that are favorable to business and let them take advantage of workers in their own right; job number increases, after all, would mean little when the quality of the positions being added is suspect. However you slice it, that businesses would lobby and Republican politicians would craft policy in favor of right-to-work doesn’t appear to be an accident, especially not in light of the aforementioned war on unions perpetrated by the Republican Party.

This same profile, on the other hand, invokes visions of “danger” as well as cites some guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. in capturing the antipathy held by labor leaders and others toward right-to-work policy. The danger, as the UMKC student staff behind the article have identified, is “in inciting political will to elect those with an interest in supporting big business,” and that it “also attracts those businesses’ donations.” As for MLK, he was downright foreboding about the concept in the abstract. As quoted within the feature:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

Leave it to a man assassinated, presumably for his views on matters of not only racial inequality, but income and wealth inequality, to put things in perspective and give the matter its due weight. Even then, King and others saw the importance of protecting labor from the machinations of big business and the politicians who aid and abet corporate attempts to shrink union representation. Sure, they may not have been statisticians with “hard, unbiased data” at their disposal—but perhaps they didn’t need to crunch numbers to see the writing on the wall.

For those who have crunched the numbers, meanwhile, the evidence for why right-to-work legislation is problematic for rank-and-file workers regardless of political or union affiliation is that much more compelling. In 2011, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz authored a report for the Economic Policy Institute on the “compensation penalty” of right-to-work laws, finding that wages, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance, and employer-sponsored pensions were all significantly lower in states that had these laws on the books. Sure, this is just one study, and the EPI does lean more to the left, but the comprehensiveness of the report alone suggests Gould and Shierholz might be on to something.

The historical implications of right-to-work legislation only magnify its problematic nature. Michael Pierce, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, directly ties right-to-work to the South’s prejudicial past (and sometimes present) and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise Jews and people of color. From his January 2017 essay:

As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”

OK, you’re thinking, Vance Muse was just one man from one Christian organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean much. No, but when it inspires whole states, their governors, and their legislators to pursue right-to-work legislation specifically to marginalize unions and their members, this is more than just the trivial misdeeds of one man. Pierce closes his piece with these thoughts:

The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.

During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”

In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.

Two things jump out here. The first is that there is a pronounced racist component to right-to-work—even if modern-day conservatives and Republicans downplay that factor. This may be a case of guilty by association, but Rep. Steve King, now-infamous white nationalist, loves right-to-work. Loves it. King loves it so much that he re-introduced legislation in the House to institute a National Right to Work Act. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire, and when there’s bad policy with the specter of racism looming, there tends to be Steve King. Just saying. The second is the mentality that connects to the earlier consideration of Americans “hating unions more than CEOs.” Anti-labor, anti-immigrant—it’s all part of the same classist soup that corporations and the wealthy use to depress the working class by turning them on themselves. Divide and conquer—a page straight out of the GOP playbook.


Given the efforts of Republican Party and industry leaders to weaken the rights of labor, in accordance with any number of factors that lend themselves to lower union enrollment numbers and fewer dues being paid, it would seem that the Democratic Party, a party which preaches inclusiveness and fighting for “the little guy,” would exhibit a more robust, if not more cohesive, challenge to the erosion of the bargaining power of the working class amid the erosion of manufacturing jobs. Owing largely to its own moneyed interests, however, the Democrats are currently primarily a fundraising operation, and only secondarily a defender and mobilizer of organized labor, allowing Republicans to undercut them in individual elections such as the 2016 presidential election, as well as threaten their political support from unions by taking labor group endorsements all but for granted. To reiterate the words of Thomas Edsall, however, they do so at their own peril. As Edsall notes, the Democratic percentage among union voters has consistently stayed in the 60% range for the past two decades, Not only is organized labor making up a smaller and smaller part of the general electorate, though, but Republicans continue to win local, state and federal offices despite changing demographics which should favor the Dems. If Democrats can’t even get into office, let alone do something about the strength of unions and their ability to organize, it paints a pretty grim picture for the working class in the United States.

Right-to-work: it has nothing to do with the right to work, nor is it right for workers, union or not. And if nothing is done to form a coalition to resist attempts to disempower unions and those workers who would join their ranks, we could be on our way back to the days and ways of the robber barons sooner than we think—if we aren’t there already.